Green Bay Packers (9-6) 38, Minnesota Vikings (7-8) 25
Saturday December 24th 2016 (at Green Bay)
GAME RECAP (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
(GREEN BAY) - The Green Bay Packers are back in familiar territory, so close to another NFC North title. Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson are combining to shred secondaries. The defense is creating turnovers. It's hard to believe this same team was once 4-6. But the Packers won their fifth straight game, riding a big-play passing attack and an opportunistic defense in a 38-25 victory on Saturday over the Minnesota Vikings. Rodgers threw for 347 yards and four scores, and the Packers cashed in on two Vikings turnovers with touchdown drives. Next up is a winner-take-all showdown next week with Detroit for the division title. "We're planning on going to Detroit to win the division," coach Mike McCarthy said. "Merry Christmas." The win also extinguished the Vikings' faint postseason hopes. Their hopes to repeat as division champs were already gone. A 5-0 start to the year was wasted. "I think when you look at it there were just a lot of mistakes, self-inflicted wounds and they came back to bite us and we weren't able to overcome those at times," quarterback Sam Bradford said. The Packers have thrived after their own bouts of adversity, notably a midseason, four-game losing streak. Nelson had 154 yards and two touchdowns from 21 yards and 2 yards in the first half. The receiver found seams in Minnesota's defense, despite the return of safety Harrison Smith from an ankle injury. Green Bay (9-6) built a 28-13 lead at halftime, with Rodgers accounting for all four scores. He finished 28 of 38, and shrugged off his right calf injury after scrambling for a 6-yard touchdown late in the second quarter and making a rare Lambeau Leap. "Once I got moving, I felt like myself," said Rodgers, adding that the sore calf is getting better. Playing again without running back Adrian Peterson, the Vikings (7-8) had success through the air. Sam Bradford threw for 382 yards and three touchdowns, including a 71-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen in the second quarter. Thielen had a career-high 202 yards and two scores. But the Vikings made too many other mistakes to catch up to the Packers. "One time a guy fell down, one time on the deep route to Nelson, (cornerback Xavier Rhodes) pulled off it too soon," coach Mike Zimmer said about the porous pass coverage. "Trying to think of all them but there was a lot."
PROJECT RUNWAY: Maybe the Vikings were sluggish after the team plane got stuck in the grass on the way to the gate at a Wisconsin airport on Friday night after making a safe landing, forcing a delay of more than five hours. Zimmer didn't think it an impact. "I think we played hard. I just don't think we played good. I don't think the plane ride had anything to do with it or anything else. There (are) no excuses," he said.
THIELEN IT: Thielen went big play-for-big play with Nelson, finishing with 12 catches. The Packers secondary had shaky moments again a week after a porous fourth quarter in a win over the Chicago Bears.
RECORD: Rodgers and Nelson set a Packers record on their 21-yard score in the first quarter. It was the 58th touchdown for the duo, breaking the tie with the Brett Favre-Antonio Freeman combination. Rodgers threw about a 10-yard pass up the seam to Nelson, who found a soft spot in the zone and then made safety Andrew Sendejo miss on a tackle before lunging forward to get the ball into the end zone. "It's special," McCarthy said about the connection between Rodgers and Nelson. "You can see the trust."
CLAY'S DAY: Matthews looked like his big-play self for the first time in weeks. He has been limited since hurting his left shoulder in late November during a win over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Packers' most dynamic pass rusher said during practice this week that he was feeling better and hoped to get more snaps. The long-haired Matthews made a difference against the Vikings, including the strip-sack of Bradford late in the second quarter that led to Rodgers' touchdown run, along with two key pass deflections and another pressure by early in the third quarter.
INJURY REPORT: Vikings: Smith played for the first time in two weeks. WR Stefon Diggs (hip) was active after being listed as questionable coming into the game, and finished with 29 yards and a touchdown on four catches. Packers: Rodgers suffered a stinger after getting sacked in the third quarter, but returned on the next series. ... CB LaDarius Gunter left the game with an elbow injury in the second quarter. RT Bryan Bulaga suffered a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter.
                         MINNESOTA     GREEN BAY
First downs                     22            19
Rushes-yards                 20-93         15-40
Net Passing yards              353           308
Passing (Att-Comp-Int)     50-34-0       39-28-0
Sacked-Yards Lost             4-29          4-39
Punts-Average               5-37.2        6-43.2
Fumbles                        2-2           1-0
Penalties-Yards               8-70          3-21
Time of Possession           31:01         28:59
MINNESOTA -  3  10   0  12 - 25
GREEN BAY - 14  14   0  10 - 38
1st - GB - Jordy Nelson, 21-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers (Mason Crosby kick) GREEN BAY 7-0
1st - MINN - Kai Forbath, 22-yard field goal GREEN BAY 7-3
1st - GB - Davante Adams, 20-yard pass from Rodgers (Crosby kick) GREEN BAY 14-3
2nd - MINN - Forbath, 26-yard field goal GREEN BAY 14-6
2nd - GB - Nelson, 2-yard pass from Rodgers (Crosby kick) GREEN BAY 21-6
2nd - MINN - Adam Thielen, 71-yard pass from Sam Bradford (Forbath kick) GREEN BAY 21-13
2nd - GB - Rodgers, 6-yard run (Crosby kick) GREEN BAY 28-13
4th - GB - Crosby, 48-yard field goal GREEN BAY 31-13
4th - GB - Richard Rodgers, 13-yard pass from Rodgers (Crosby kick) GREEN BAY 38-13
4th - MINN - Stefon Diggs, 3-yard pass from Bradford (Pass failed) GREEN BAY 38-19
4th - MINN - Thielen, 8-yard pass from Bradford (Run failed) GREEN BAY 38-25
INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING
GREEN BAY - Ty Montgomery 9-23, Aaron Rodgers 2-13 1 TD, Christine Michael 4-4
MINNESOTA - Jerrick McKinnon 11-50, Matt Asiata 6-34, Sam Bradford 2-5, Adam Thielen 1-4
PASSING
GREEN BAY - Aaron Rodgers 38-28-347 4 TD
MINNESOTA - Sam Bradford 50-34-382 3 TD
RECEIVING
GREEN BAY - Jordy Nelson 9-154 2 TD, Geronimo Allison 4-66, Davante Adams 4-44 1 TD, Ty Montgomery 4-17, Jared Cook 3-37, Richard Rodgers 2-20 1 TD, Jeff Janis 1-8, Christine Michael 1-1
MINNESOTA - Adam Thielen 12-202 2 TD, Kyle Rudolph 6-53, Jerrick McKinnon 5-35, Stefon Diggs 4-29 1 TD, Matt Asiata 3-30, Cordarelle Patterson 2-13, Charles Johnson 1-16, David Morgan 1-4
AROUND THE NFC NORTH - WEEK 15
SATURDAY DECEMBER 24TH
Washington 41, CHICAGO 21 - Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins knew they needed help if they are going to make the playoffs for the second straight year. A dominant victory didn't change that. Cousins threw for a touchdown and ran for two more, and the Redskins gave their fading playoff hopes a boost with a 41-21 victory over the Chicago Bears on Saturday. DeSean Jackson added 114 yards receiving, and Washington (8-6-1) intercepted Matt Barkley five times in an easy victory. "There was a sense of urgency," Cousins said. "There always is, though." The Redskins still need help to get to the playoffs. But after relinquishing control of the second wild card with a loss to Carolina on Monday night, they bounced back in a big way. They close out the season at home against the New York Giants next week, and there's no need to remind Jackson how big that game will be. "Our backs are against the wall," he said. "It's kind of been against the wall the past couple of weeks. As long as we take advantage of our opportunities to do what we need to do to win a football game." Eighth in the NFC behind Green Bay and Tampa Bay coming into Saturday's game and with a chance to get eliminated from contention, Washington scored 14 points in the first quarter after struggling to score early in recent games and never really was threatened by the Bears (3-12). Cousins -- shaky against Carolina -- was 18 of 29 for 270 yards. He threw a 17-yard touchdown to Chris Thompson in the first quarter and scored on a 9-yard run in the second . He also pushed in from the 1 late in the third to make it 31-14. Jackson had a 57-yard reception , but left after he got hit in the jaw while blocking in the third quarter. He said he could have stayed in, but coach Jay Gruden took a cautious approach. Pierre Garcon caught four passes for 94 yards. Thompson had a rushing touchdown in the first quarter to go with his scoring catch. Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland each had two interceptions, and
the Redskins won their seventh straight against Chicago.
MONDAY DECEMBER 26TH
DALLAS 42, Detroit 21 - Matthew Stafford lost to his hometown team again, and the playoff plans are on hold for the Detroit Lions. Dez Bryant threw his first career touchdown pass between a pair of scoring catches, Ezekiel Elliott ran for two TDs and the Dallas Cowboys kept the Lions from clinching a postseason spot with a 42-21 win Monday night. Despite a second straight loss following five consecutive victories, Detroit (9-6) still controls its postseason fate. The Lions will be at home against Green Bay (9-6) with the NFC North title at stake in the finale Sunday. "It's a one-game season," Stafford said. "If you told me in Week 17 we would have a game at our place and got a chance to win the division, I'd take it all day." Stafford, a championship-winning high school quarterback in the Dallas area, had a 1-yard scoring plunge , but was sacked four times -- matching a season high -- almost two years after losing a wild-card game at the Cowboys. He was 26 of 46 for 260 yards, including an interception that set up Elliott's 1-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to break a 21-all halftime tie. With home-field advantage already wrapped up, the Cowboys (13-2) didn't let up in their seventh straight home win while matching their franchise record in victories, reached two other times. "There's just one way to play," coach Jason Garrett said. "You can't put different meaning on different competition, like all of a sudden this is less important than that. That's not how we operate." The biggest sign they were serious about this one came late in the third quarter, when Bryant took a reverse pitch from Dak Prescott and tucked the ball as if planning to run before pulling up and tossing a lefty lob to Jason Witten for an easy 10-yard score and a 35-21 lead. Witten, the normally stoic 14th-year tight end, flashed Bryant's celebratory "X" and was soon mirrored by the often-exuberant receiver. "We've been working on that about five or six weeks, maybe a little longer," Bryant said. "You know how you practice plays and sometimes you don't run them? I did not think we were going to call that play. And we did, and we made it happen." Elliott, the NFL rushing leader, had a 55-yard touchdown run in the first half and finished with 80 yards on 12 carries. He has 15 touchdowns rushing, two behind league-leading LeGarrette Blount of New England. The first-year sensation known as "Zeke," who is 177 yards shy of Eric Dickerson's 33-year-old rookie rushing record of 1,808 yards, was almost upstaged by Detroit's "double-Z" -- Zach Zenner. The little-known undrafted back in his second year out of South Dakota State, filling in with Theo Riddick sidelined for a third straight game with a wrist injury, had a career-high 64 yards and two touchdowns at halftime. But Zenner faded in the second half, finishing with 67 yards. "Found some creases, made some nice runs," Stafford said. "We've got to have more of it. We've got to find a way in the second half to get a couple more yards here or there on the ground." Prescott tied Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger (2004) for the most wins by a rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era with 13. He was 15 of 20 for 212 yards with three touchdowns, including Bryant's juggling 25-yard grab in the end zone when he fought off pass interference by Johnson Bademosi.
Aaron Rodgers scores a second quarter touchdown against Minnesota Vikings' Xavier Rhodes. Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Green Bay Packers cornerback Damarious Randall (23) breaks up a pass intended for wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (84) against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field Saturday, December 24, 2016. Jim Matthews/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wis
Aaron Rodgers scores a second quarter touchdown against Minnesota Vikings' Xavier Rhodes. Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Nick Perry puts a hard hit on Sam Bradford. Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin